Tilan Samaraweera played 81 Tests for Sri Lanka over a twelve year career in the game’s pinnacle, scoring 5462 runs @ 48.76, with 14 centuries and a high score of 231. He played 53 ODI’s, scoring two centuries, and compiled 15 501 First Class runs @ 48.59.
After his playing career, Tilan has also filled various coaching roles with the Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and New Zealand national teams.
Thanks for giving up your time today Tilan, lets get started.
Q. What year were you born?
1976, September 22nd.
Q. When did you start playing cricket and who for?
I was eight years old when I started playing Under 11’s for my school. I also played a lot of backyard cricket with my two brothers.
Q. When did you realise you had the ability to play for Sri Lanka?
When I was 19 years old, I could really feel the taste to play for Sri Lanka. I played a game for the Sri Lanka Under 24’s against South Africa and that was when I knew I could make it.
Q. What advice would you give to a young cricketer that has aspirations of playing for their country?
Playing for your country is an honour and a privilege. In terms of advice, it requires lots of hard work, sacrifice and self-discipline. It is not themselves that they are representing but a whole nation
Q. You made your ODI debut as a bowler, did you always see yourself as a batsman or was that just the natural progression of your development?
In school cricket I batted number three. When I got to First Class cricket I couldn’t bat top five. I batted seven and bowled a lot for probably my first four or five years, so that’s probably why I debuted internationally as a bowler.
Q. Can you tell us about your Test debut and what that was like?
It was an awesome feeling, I was super nervous but it’s very hard to describe in words. Luckily for me, India won the toss and batted so I had a day to rest and relax and calm my nerves.
Q. What was it like scoring a century on your Test debut?
We got India all out on day one. I think I came in at about 6-420, our top order were all scoring hundreds. I was lucky to get a start, I got to 50 or so and Hashan Thilekrathna told me to just go for it. I started batting more aggressively in the second half of my innings and was lucky enough to finish with an unbeaten century.
Tilan celebrating a Test century for Sri Lanka
Q. You also dismissed Sourav Ganguly in your Test debut, can you tell us what that was like?
My off spin was normally just straight, but I bowled one that actually turned and it caught the outside edge and went to Mahela Jayawardene at first slip.
Q. When you were first dropped from the Test team in 2002, did you think you’d play Test cricket again at that stage?
In 2002, I thought I could definitely come back and I think I only missed one tour. In 2005, it was a fair reason that they dropped me, I wasn’t making any runs. In 2011, there was no reason to drop me and I still don’t understand why I was dropped. Every time I missed out, I always had a gut feel I would get back.
Q. You spent two years captaining Sri Lanka’s ‘A’ team from 2006-08 under Chandika Hathurusinghe, tell us what he was like as a coach and why he was so good for you?
In my first 40 Tests, I was a very boring batsman. I met Chandika and he changed my mindset, he also made some small technical changes and in my last 40 Tests I was a much more aggressive batsman.
Q. Going back to the 2009 Lahore terror attack, what was going through your head when the team bus was being shot at?
My initial thought was ‘that’s it, I’m going to die, that’s it.’
Q. When you were in hospital after the attack, what were you thinking?
I was lying in my hospital bed, and I was actually very scared. I was worried someone was going to come back and shoot me in my hospital bed, I was that scared.
Q. After getting shot, did you think you’d be able to play cricket again let alone play for Sri Lanka again?
In Pakistan, surgeons did a special scan, like an MRI or something, and they told me I could play cricket again. I didn’t believe it and thought they were just trying to be nice to me and keep me happy. I was flown back to Sri Lanka and the doctors told me the bullet had just missed the artery and the bone and I could play cricket again. If it hit the bone, I would’ve been able to get back to day to day life, but I wouldn’t have played cricket again. If it hit the artery, I would’ve been paralysed, so I was very lucky.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your recovery from the gunshot wound?
Full credit to the doctors, physiotherapists, people that helped me with mental therapy. There was a bit of shock at first and I had lots of nightmares, it took about five or six months for me to recover.
Q. Do you think cricket should be played in Pakistan after what happened?
If the safety is there definitely. Otherwise it is very unfair for the younger generation of Pakistan as they cannot see their role models in reality. It has a negative impact on cricket in Pakistan.
Q. Was there ever a particular moment in your Test career, that made you think, ‘how good is this’?
There was no particular moment, every time you win a Test it’s a special feeling you can’t put a price on.
Q. Was it disappointing to finish your Test career with a duck?
I wasn’t disappointed with the duck itself, more so with the shot I played against Nathan Lyon that got me out.
Q. What was it like hitting the winning runs in a World Cup Semifinal?
After the attack, I was so scared of firecrackers. I can still remember that at the start of the 48th over, there were 4 runs to get to win. On the first ball I hit a boundary over cover, but unfortunately the firecrackers in the stadium had been fired too early and the umpires made it a dead ball. Unfortunately, I never heard the firecrackers as my focus was in the moment and winning the game. On the 5th ball of the over I hit a boundary and it was a phenomenal moment.
Tilan celebrates after taking Sri Lanka to the World Cup Final
Q. Can you tell us about the experience of playing in a World Cup Final?
People are always taking about it in terms of just approaching it as another game, but it is not like that at all. It’s a once in a lifetime moment for many players. Lots of pressure, anxiety and excitement.
Q. During your career you voiced your disappointment at times about the lack of clarity from the national selection committee, from what you’ve seen after your time as a player, do you believe that issue has been resolved?
No, I don’t think it’s been resolved. From what I can tell nothing has really changed and there’s not enough clarity about why people are being dropped.
Q. You’ve spent time in coaching in the national set ups of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand, which country impressed you most with the way they went about things?
All three have very different cultures, and they all impressed me in different ways.
Tilan coaching with Bangladesh
Q. Where did you enjoy your time coaching most?
It’s hard to say, I enjoyed all three, they were all very different experiences.
Q. Is coaching something you’re keen on pursuing and getting involved in at high levels?
Oh yes, definitely. I would love to get back into it.
Q. Are you currently involved in any coaching?
I had been doing some part time work with Victoria, but I’m not doing anything at the moment with this virus.
Q. What did you enjoy most about playing Test cricket?
It’s all about testing your skills and mental strength, playing day in, day out. That’s what I loved.
Q. What was the most challenging part of playing Test cricket?
The mental capacity of the game.
Q. Which country was the most different from Sri Lanka in terms of lifestyle?
The West Indies, the people are cooler and more relaxed.
Q. Which country did you enjoy touring most?
England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were my favourites to tour.
Q. Which country did you least enjoy touring?
I enjoyed touring every country, but especially those four.
Q. Which country had the most hostile fans?
India, they were always backing their players. They would be constantly shouting, screaming, cheering to the full capacity of the stadium.
Q. Which country had the toughest batting conditions?
Definitely England, in a day you would get three different types of conditions. It would be sunny and nice, then it would rain, and then it would be overcast and swing lots.
Q. What would you say was the best team you played against?
2003 versus Australia under Ricky Ponting. They were an amazing team, especially in that period from 2001 to 2009. They just dominated, they were number one in the world for 95 months, that’s just phenomenal. I really enjoyed the challenge of playing against them.
Q. Who were the most intimidating bowlers you faced and why?
Dale Steyn, he was quick. Morne Morkel, he was tall and quick. Mitchell Johnson, he was slingy and quick. And of course, Shoaib Akhtar, ohh he was very quick.
Q. Who were the most skillful bowlers you faced and why?
James Anderson and Vernon Philander. They are risk position and do lots of tricks with the ball
Q. Who were the most challenging batsmen you bowled to and why?
I didn’t bowl enough for that, haha.
Q. How did the standard of County Cricket in England compare to Sri Lankan First Class cricket?
England had a phenomenal set up, the standard, the facilities and professionalism is set high. In comparison to Sri Lanka, our standards have started to drop since the mid 2000’s. There are 24 teams and that means there are 48 openers, which is far too many.
Q. Is it just the number of teams that is affecting Sri Lanka First Class cricket’s standard?
There is no money rolling in. Senior players are leaving, there are no senior players in the teams it is just kids, they will never learn with no senior players. When I made my debut in 1997 for Colts Cricket Club, there were lots of senior players to learn from. With the amount of teams, there is also not enough depth in the competition.
Q. Why’d you move to Australia?
Purely for my two daughters. It was for their education and to give them the best opportunities. Australia is a peaceful country and a very nice place.
Q. Next year, there are plans for eight young emerging Sri Lankan cricketers to play in the Dandenong District Cricket Association (DDCA), what are your thoughts on this?
It is a great opportunity for them to play in foreign conditions. If they can get into Premier Cricket or County 2nd’s that would be even better for their development.
Q. What was your favourite format of the game to play and why?
Test cricket, I loved the mental challenge.
Q. Which format do you think suited your batting best?
Q. Which innings of yours stand out to you as your finest?
It’s hard to say, but there’s definitely a few. My debut hundred would be one. I came in at 3-3 for Sri Lanka against Pakistan in Karachi and got a hundred against Shoaib Akhtar. In my come back Test after missing two years against the West Indies, I scored a century and that was special. Against South Africa in Sri Lanka’s first win there I scored a century. My two ODI hundreds are also special.
Q. What are some of the best innings you’ve witnessed as a player?
Undoubtedly Brian Lara in 2003 in Sri Lanka. We won the series 3-0, but he scored 600 runs for the series. Against our attack with the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, that was amazing. There was no particular innings that stood out, just his whole series.
Q. Can you tell us about some of the best wins you’ve been involved in?
My first Test match against India was one. In 2008 Sri Lanka won our first Test in the West Indies. In 2011 we won our first Test in South Africa. Also in 2011, the World Cup Semifinal win against New Zealand.
Q. Can you pick an XI of the best players you’ve coached?
Shakib Al Hasan Mushfiqur Rahim (wk)
Q. Can you also pick an XI of the best players you’ve played against?
Adam Gilchrist (wk)
Q. Over your career, which teammates did you get along with best?
Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. We played school cricket against each other and we’re all the same age.
Q. Across your career who were your biggest influencers or mentors?
My two brothers and my sister. My sister really helped me with meditation, and my two brothers were great. Chandika Hathurusinghe was another one. I captained under him for two years at Sri Lanka A, I learnt lots under him when he was the batting coach of Sri Lanka and again when he brought me over to Bangladesh to coach, I learnt lots from him there as well.
Q. Looking back on your career is there anything you’d do differently?
I’m very happy with my career. One thing I would change though is that I didn’t enjoy my first 40 Tests. I was always worried about my place in the team, if I had to change something, I would enjoy my first 40 Tests more.
Q. What is your proudest moment as a cricketer?
Representing Sri Lanka in the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai was a standout highlight of my career. Unfortunately, we ended up on the losing side.